National Trial down to a Tea
Simon Holt previews Saturday's action at Ascot, Wincanton and Haydock and fancies Teaforthree to win the Betfred Grand National Trial.
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Captain Chris, who ran the race of his life when heart-breakingly touched off by Long Run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, is fancied to gain rewarding consolation in Saturday's Betfair Ascot Chase.
The Philip Hobbs-trained nine-year-old, who is best on right-handed courses, has an earlier Ascot win to his name this season having beaten the in-form For Non Stop in good style on heavy ground in November (2m3f) with the reopposing Ghizao third (4lb worse off) and Finian's Rainbow a well beaten fourth.
The last-named, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase last season, has since endured a procedure to help his breathing but it remains to be seen if he can reproduce his best form, especially as ground conditions are again likely to be softer than his ideal.
Meanwhile, at Kempton, Captain Chris ran an absolute cracker and looked sure to win after the last only to be worn down by a Gold Cup winner, and had his other main rival here Cue Card about 20 lengths behind him in fifth.
This shorter trip should help the talented Cue Card who tends to race freely but he wouldn't have won the King George at 2m5f (the distance of this race) and I suspect that the superior stamina of Captain Chris may again prove his undoing on this stiff course.
There are grounds for giving Somersby a chance as he beat Finian's Rainbow in the Victor Chandler Chase (2m1f) here last season and this distance should be within his compass.
However, the nine-year-old will need to improve a good deal on his reappearance third to Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham where he failed to hold off a 50/1 outsider for second place.
At Haydock, Teaforthree is taken to reverse Coral Welsh National placings with Monbeg Dude in the Lancashire course's Betfred-sponsored Grand National trial.
In truth there is little between the two horses on that form - Teaforthree gets a 3lb pull for being beaten half a length - but I am a big fan of Rebecca Curtis's gelding who displayed his bottomless stamina and fine jumping ability when landing the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March.
This is certainly a big task for Teaforthree under 11st11lb but he is big enough and strong enough to carry it and is a better jumper than Monbeg Dude which could be crucial round Haydock, a course that takes few prisoners. At this stage, I think this is the one they will all have to beat at Aintree.
Perhaps the most serious threat to the selection could be Rigadin de Beauchene, the subject of an ante-post gamble and a much improved stayer this season who is bred for this job being a half brother to the current Grand National favourite Prince de Beauchene and, indeed, Miko de Beauchene, who won the Welsh National before following-up in this race in 2008.
Like his siblings, 'Rigadin' seems to be getting better with age and his recent victory at Warwick has been franked subsequently by the runner-up Godsmejudge while he now gets a 12lb pull for a three-and-a-half lengths beating by Well Refreshed (also a winner since) at Lingfield in December.
Earlier in the season, Venetia Williams' upwardly mobile chaser might have won at Newbury but for a serious mistake at the fourth last which prompted one of the recoveries of the season by his promising young rider Robert Dunne - the odd blunder and non-completion has been a feature of this horse's career in the past.
Last year's winner Giles Cross should also go well as he needed the run on his reappearance when pulling up in the Welsh National.
At his best in testing conditions, Victor Dartnall's stayer put up a sensational display of jumping under a sublime ride from Denis O'Regan 12 months ago before holding on gamely after the last from the subsequent Grand National winner Neptune Collonges. Now just 6lb higher in the ratings, he should not be discounted.
Of the others, dual winner Silver By Nature has a long absence to overcome while recent course scorer Cannington Brook had a very hard race against Carruthers at Ffos Las just a fortnight ago.
At Wincanton, Zarkandar is likely to start a warm favourite for the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle in which trainer Alan King provides the main opposition with Raya Star (Robert Thornton) and Balder Succes (Noel Fehily).
Although already a winner on the course this season, a much stiffer test probably suits Zarkandar best and, therefore, I wouldn't be taking too short a price about him here even though it will be a surprise if he is beaten in this Champion Hurdle trial.
Raya Star, a fine second to the ill-fated Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, continues to progress well.Selections: